We have been on our backpacking trip around the world for two months now. We started with America and then flew to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has been amazing. Absolutely stunning. I wrote a post on what surprised me about Sri Lanka here. I’d say one of the highlights of the country is the many beautiful train journeys. Now. You know me. I’m not one to moan and I strive to remain positive. I take copious amounts of hormone therapy and wine to aid this, but, although travelling the world may seem lovely and romantic, sometimes the reality is a tad different. I wasn’t going to tell you this. I said “No Liz. That’s disgusting. It’s not the sort of thing you want your kids to read”. But I’m sorry. Someone’s going to have to hear about it. And mummy needs to write in her travel diary. So here it is. My Travel Bog Diary #3. Apologies to the kids in advance.
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Because we panicked when we first arrived in Colombo, we booked the observation carriage that goes from Colombo to Ella. I had read in all the guidebooks that if you want to secure a seat on this particular train, then you should book it at least a week in advance. So I did.
Our first mistake.
The trouble was, we were going down South to spend time in Marissa, which, to cut a long story short meant that we would have to double back on ourselves in order to take the pre-booked train trip.
We later found out from our Sri Lankan Couchsurfing host that it’s much easier to get the bus from Mirissa to Ella – this only takes about three hours – and then get the train from Ella, via Kandy and back to Colombo. Easy peasy he said. Only silly idiots do it the other way, he said.
So back to our travel mistake.
We were now in Mirrissa with a ticket from Colombo leaving at 3 pm sharp. Because I was determined not to forfeit 30 NZD, we decided to take the train back to Colombo and start the trip from there. Kind of start again. No big deal. After all, this train journey – along with many others – is said to be one of the most beautiful train rides in Sri Lanka. We might as well experience as much as we can.
“Why are we going on the train in a big massive circle?” Wailed the kids
“Because you get to see more of the country this way. And anyway, a whole day spent on the train means I don’t have to buy you lunch, and this saves me at least $10. Plus, I can put my headphones on and listen to a podcast and ignore you for three hours.”
I wanted to say this, but because I’m sick and tired of answering questions that I don’t know the answer to, I instead just said:
“Oh, Shut up.”
The train journey from Marissa to Colombo. The train trip that is said to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the whole wide world. That’s what we were to be doing today.
Only twenty minutes into the big day of the beautiful train trip and things didn’t get off to a good start.
I made the mistake of deciding to wear my baggy hippy yoga pants for the train journey of a lifetime. I wanted to look the part.
“Why are you wearing those?’ asked Tess “They’re all stretched and look filthy.”
‘Because my little darling, mummy looks like a hippy yoga goddess in these. And those around me are bound to think I have just come from a meditation retreat in Tibet and that you two are not my real children but some helpless bratty orphanage kids that I am taking on my spiritual pilgrimage in order to cleanse you.
I wanted to say this, but instead, I just said: “Shut up and don’t pass personal remarks.”
One tuk-tuk, bus and horrendously hot walk later, we finally huffed and puffed onto the railway station. I was dying to use the toilet. Sorry, bathroom. Only it isn’t is it? A bathroom I mean. So, I’ll say toilet. You’re lucky. What I really want to say is the bog. Shit hole.
Oh, God. What’s happened to me? Since I started this year-long trip around the world, I’m embarrassed to say that I have become somewhat obsessed with toilets.
I talk about them and dream about them.
I spend most of my waking days thinking about what the next toilet will be like. Or telling anyone that will listen to my account of a particularly bad toilet experience. It is turning into an unnatural obsession. If I’m not talking about my fibre intake – or the lack of it, I am quizzing the kids on their’ ‘movements’ and when I go into shops, the first thing I look for is toilet roll or baby wipes.
It’s taking over my life.
My poor, poor husband. Brian.
Not only does he now have to witness as I sniff my clothes before I choose whether or not to wear them, but he also has to endure regular updates on my bowel movements or, in most cases, the lack of them. How romantic.
He looks on, becoming more and more horrified.
The other day I caught him looking at me – not in a – ‘Wow, you’re the mother of my children and the sexiest woman I’ve ever had the honour of travelling the world with’ sort of way, but in the way, one might look at an old woman with no teeth sucking her thumb. Loudly. Just think about that for a moment. There you go. That’s how he looked at me. Imagine that.
Back to my day. If you travel by train in Sri Lanka and happen to find yourself at Weligama station busting for the loo, be warned. Although they may look all pretty and ordinary from the outside, pots of geraniums lining the doorway, and signs written in golden painted letters, they are squat toilets.
Clean squat toilets, I’ll admit, but still squat toilets. Not to worry thinks me. I’m a big grown-up lady with nice strong thighs. Heave Ho Liz. Down you go.
Why the hell did I wear those baggy yoga pants?
It’s not a very pleasant start to the day when you begin to relieve yourself, only to look down into the urine stained hole to see the crutch of your baggy pants dragging in the flow of pee.
What to do? No posh blower hand machines in Sri Lanks to dry my soaked pants. Not even any tissues to mop up some excess moisture. I walked out of the station toilets and onto the platform and tried to remain composed. Wet thighs rubbing together. Becoming chaffed with every step. And stinking.
My baggy pants.
The same baggy pants that I’ve had for three years but still refer to them as new.
Those baggy pants.
The ones that I’d worn not just because they’re comfy, but because really, I secretly believed that I would look like Julia Roberts in them – when she was in Eat Love Pray.
As I walked along the platform of shame towards my family, I looked as though I was sporting a giant soiled nappy. Swinging, sodden between my legs.
Hardly the look I was after.
The Train Journey From Marissa to Colombo. Three hours. And hot. Bloody hot. With pissy pants.
The German woman that sat down beside me on the train to Colombo had an eight-month-old baby with her. I tried to smile. A friendly and slightly desperate smile. I wanted to tell her how much I admired women who travel with young babies. And that I was sorry for the smell of urine. But she didn’t seem to want to talk to me.
I knew she could smell the smell.
She tried to turn the baby away under the pretence that she didn’t want to bother me.
But I knew that she wanted to take her bundle of joy on her very clean German shorts and sing out:
“Smelly lady! Dirty lady! Wee Wee Lady, tra, lah, lah’…
The baby, on the other hand, was very friendly and apparently keen to interact with me. Her head kept pinning backwards like something out of the exorcist. Why do our kids do that? Suddenly become fascinated by smelly weirdos on trains.
She kept gurgling and smiling and, unlike me, she smelt divine. All baby powder and milky skin.
I wanted to grab that little baby and ram my face under her Babygro to remember the smell of clean. But I thought that her Mother might become alarmed and call for the station master, so, instead, I took the tiger balm out of my flight bag – the one I keep for Brians’ stiff back – and had a little sniff.
Apart from the smell of my pants, the train journey from Marissa to Colombo was beautiful. You have the coast on one side and the village life on the other. If you get the chance, do it. Don’t travel any other way. It is stupidly cheap (about $2 a ticket), and it is an experience you will never forget.
Especially, if you are lucky enough to be sitting next to me with my stinky pants.
Two hours into the journey and I found myself staring with envy at the girl opposite me. When I say girl, I mean girl. Young, beautiful travel girl. About twenty-four years old. She was sitting with one leg draped over her boyfriend’s knee while she turned the pages of her book – probably a book on how to look young and beautiful while travelling. Twisting her hair around one finger. She repeatedly tip tip tapped that foot of hers against her partner’s calf – playfully – like a real-life girl, and he wasn’t even getting annoyed.
Not once did I hear him say “Will you please stop doing that you annoying cow. It’s extremely irritating. And have you seen my glasses? I think you’ve lost them.”
No. Instead, he looked down at her – because she was small and petite and he was a big tall, hunky giant and he mouthed “Hello …You’.
“Get a room!” I wanted to yell in their faces like a crazy urine stained hobbo. But instead, I just smiled and covered the yellow stain on my pants with my kindle and shrugged my shoulders as if to say “there’s a funny smell around here isn’t there?”
I looked at her foot and felt a surge of envy rise into my stomach. Smooth brown feet and beautifully painted dark burgundy toes, all topped off by one of those silver jewelled toe rings that would have only had just fit my eyeliner pencil.
I wanted to fall at her toe ringed foot and beg her for pity or at the very least for the number of her pedicurist. But I didn’t.
I looked to my own fat little trotters. Swollen and bloated from carrying a rucksack twice my own body and retaining enough water to bathe an elephant in.
I looked to Brian who was squinting at the screen of the phone trying to work out whether or not we had missed the connecting train to Kandy. And I looked to the kids who were arguing about who was going to sit in the seat next to the drain in the floor of the train. The one that houses the giant cockroach.
We arrived in Colombo with a couple of hours to spare.
This is very unlike us. We are usually the family at the back huffing and puffing like four pug dogs.
Because of our immaculate timing, I must say that I felt proud of my planning, and if I say so myself – I felt a little bit cocky because of it. A renewed sense of confidence washed over me.
Everyone was hungry after the train journey, so I thought I’d be a kind mummy and treat the kids to some lunch.The afternoon sun seemed to be getting hotter and hotter by the minute, and Tessa was starting to complain that her backpack was rubbing her sweaty back.
With the urine stained baggy pants having long since dried, I was once again on top form and announced to the kids that we would be eating where the locals eat.
“Why can’t we just go and get some popcorn off that man on the station like all the other people?” Cried, Tessa,
Because this is the real Sri Lanka, said mummy as she marched off in front, looking like a pregnant tortoise in a running race. With her sun-dried, cracky, weey pants on.
The café that we went to at the railway’s station was packed with an equal amount of Sri Lankans and flies. Always a good sign. When the food came I tried to show off in front of the kids and scoop up the sloppy rice and sparrow leg curry with my fingers. Just like a local.
Sonny sat opposite me.
With the terrified look of a sixteen-year-old boy who is going to die of embarrassment perchance that someone might look at him and then his Mother sitting opposite, eating like an animal, and guess the connection.
“WHY are you doing THAT when they have given you a SPOON to eat with? Oh, God. You are SO embarrassing…”
“Yes”, piped up his thirteen-year-old sidekick sister, “you are so E-x-t-r-a ”
Whatever the hell that means I don’t know. Silly girl. I just ignored them both and carried on shovelling and wiping. All I know is Julia would have eaten with her fingers -so I am.
Sonny tried to hide behind his fake Ray Bans, crossed his arms and sighed. Scratched his mozzie bites furiously, checked his phone – which made him even madder because there wasn’t any signal, and in the end he just read the writing on the back of the water bottle about a thousand times, shaking his head.
‘Hush now my love’. I wanted to say, ‘Mummy’s going native, that’s all. Everything will be fine if you just both relax’. I wanted to say this. But I had a mouth full of rice and bones, so I just spat and spluttered: “Shut up and turn that bloody phone off at the dinner table”.
After three attempts and threats from the kids to go and wait outside, I gave up. I’ll admit. It was a rather revolting spectacle. It was like watching someone in a nursing home eating soup with their fingers. Not pretty.
It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks and while I was on Colombo station wandering up and down the platform trying to look relaxed and not bloated from too much curry, I came across my perfect gift.
At the far end of Colombo station on platform two, sits a little old lady in a green kiosk. The kiosk looks very much like a small witches coven. She is surrounded by all things natural and herbal – the things that women love but that make men twitchy and nervous.
The woman looked a bit like I imagine myself looking by the end of this trip. There she was, crouched inside, looking out from a little square opening, and behind her, just above the witches special brew tea urn (which incidentally was a delicious green tea concoction and only 20 rupees!) was the thing that I’d been looking for all my life. My ideal travel present.
“Body Wash,” it said, in big letters
‘Drives away excessive sweat and stench!’
That’ll do nicely I thought. I swear, I started to get excited.
I used to long for Chanel Mademoiselle for my birthday. But now I just wanted that stench lotion.
Brian couldn’t quite believe that I was serious about buying some. But believe me, if I could have bought a year’s supply I would have.
Unfortunately, the train for Kandy pulled into the station five minutes early and so I didn’t get chance to buy it.
I could see the two bright red faces of the kids at the end of the platform as they panicked and tried to haul our rucksacks, as well as their own, onto their poor teenage sunburned shoulders. I felt a pang of guilt as I witnessed Sonny’s trainers – that were tied to the back of his pack -swinging to and fro, continuously smacking him in the face as he tried to run.
You see it was me who had told him to tie them onto his pack like that.
I told him that that’s what all the cool travellers do.
And if there’s one thing that Mummy knows about, it’s how to be cool.
Ask my mate Julia Roberts. She’ll tell you.
SOME OF THE THINGS WE TRAVEL WITH:
Silk Sleeping bag Liner for hot nights and when we go Couchsurfing.
And one of the things I WISH I could travel with…